Thursday, 2 June 2011

newfangled and pagan

newfangled first meant "caught up in a new experience". -fangled is from Middle English *fangel- maybe meaning "inclined to take", related to Old English fōn/fang "to grasp", cognate with German fangen "to take catch".

Closely related to the verb is the noun fang "plunder, spoils". It also meant "an instrument for capturing or holding", and this led to it being used to refer to canine teeth, or the dangerous teeth of any animal.

It's from a nasalized form of Proto-Indo-European *paḱ-/*paǵ- "to fasten". This root became Latin pāgus "of or belonging to a country community, civilian, inhabitant of a country community" (from "boundary staked out on the ground"). pāgānus initially referred to someone who lived in the country. This apparently became post-classical Latin paganus "heathen".

There are three possible reasons why the sense of paganus developed into "heathen".

1) Heathens lived in the country.
2) paganus also meant "civilian" as opposed to "soldier". Since Christians considered themselves soldiers of Christ, they used the term for "civilian" for non-Christians.
3) paganus had an intermediary sense "outsider", as in someone outside the city, and this came to be applied to people outside the community.


Craig Morris said...

Just for the record, German "fangen" means "catch," not "take," and my German etymology reference work (Kluge) does not indicate that the word ever meant "take." It is related to an old Greek word meaning "fasten" and a Latin word meaning "reach an agreement/sign a contract."

goofy said...

You're right, the German word means "catch". Latin pāx and Greek pēgnunai are also related.